We Need to Pump the Brakes on Driverless Cars

We’re nowhere near proving that automated driving technology is safer than human drivers

Sam Abuelsamid
Debugger
Published in
5 min readSep 17, 2020

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Photo: Yandex

Back in late 2016, Michigan became one of the first states to pass laws explicitly governing the testing and deployment of automated vehicles (AVs). Part of that package of new rules included the ability to test vehicles on public roads without a safety driver. Numerous states now have similar regulations in place, but they all have one thing in common. Nowhere in the United States are AV companies required to prove to local officials that their vehicles are actually safe to operate on public roads.

Training and evaluating humans who want to get a driver’s license in the United States is severely lacking compared to many other countries, especially those in Europe. Often the most challenging test that a teenager has to perform to get a permit to operate a two-ton vehicle is parallel parking. Demonstrating that they can adequately respond to an obstruction in the road and safely stop or steer clear is not part of the evaluation. That said, people do have to take a basic vision test and demonstrate that they understand the rules of the road.

In the United States, no such requirement exists for software-powered virtual drivers. While tens of millions of miles have been racked up by development AVs over the past decade along with billions of simulation miles, we are nowhere near close to demonstrating that automated driving technology is even as safe as human drivers, much less safer.

For some reason, the United States has decided that it’s okay to submit the public to a large-scale experiment that no one consented to or was even informed of.

Prior to the economic slowdown triggered by the pandemic, Americans were driving more than 3.2 trillion miles annually. While 38,000 fatalities a year on our roads is absolutely a tragedy, given how much we drive, that works out to about 1.1 deaths every 100 million miles. While human error plays a part in upwards of 90% of crashes, we still only crash about every half a million miles. That works out to about once every 30 years at an average of 15,000 miles per…

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Sam Abuelsamid
Debugger

Sam is a principal analyst leading Guidehouse Insights’ e-Mobility Research Service covering automated driving, electrification and mobility services